The early-morning fire that tore through the kitchen did more than close the Ale House Sports Pub & Eatery for at least two months. It put 17 employees out of work, including general manager Craig Dickens.
As Dickens and his staff surveyed the damage at the University Place restaurant July 12, he got a visitor from across the parking lot: Narrows Plaza Bowl manager Mary Ann Greenfield.
She had an idea.
“Mary Ann isn’t open for lunch and we were,” Dickens recounted, “and she said, ‘While your employees are out of work, how about if we hire them temporarily and open for lunch? We’ll give your customers a home away from home until you reopen.’ ”
The Ale House insurance policy covered the salaries of employees, though Dickens said those are among the details still being resolved. But not all his employees could wait for a settlement.
Dickens left the decision to his staff individually — and Greenfield came away with at least six new part-time employees.
“Sure, I was trying to be a nice person, but not that nice,” she joked this week. “I get to open for lunch, and I might get some of their regulars for the time being.
“I felt terrible for Craig. We’re right across the parking lot. It’s a little self-serving, but it seemed like an idea that might help both of us. We’ll keep our menu — I don’t want to plagiarize their food.”
She hopes those customers who regularly lunched at the Ale House will cross the parking lot on Mildred Street and eat at the Narrows Plaza Bowl, where they’ll recognize familiar faces.
Among those will be Sue Peters, the Ale House manager; her daughter Mandy, a bartender; and son-in-law Antoine, the assistant kitchen manager.
“It was an opportunity for Mary Ann to start serving lunch, and certainly an opportunity for all of us who came over to work,” Peters said.
“I love my job. I’ve been with the Ale House 18 years; it’s my second family. I know my customers. I’ve hit them on Facebook to tell them there’s now a lunch service here and a happy hour. I’ve tried to hold up my end.”
Meanwhile, Dickens has his plate full. Though the fire was limited to the kitchen and roof above it and found to be accidental, insurance investigators haven’t let him or his staff move anything in that kitchen.
“They’re trying to determine what can be salvaged and what cannot,” he said. “Everything in the restaurant has smoke damage and must be cleaned, everything painted.
“We’re hoping to re-open in September, but that may be ambitious.”
Greenfield brought on the new employees and added hours for the lunch crew.
“We were only open in bar four days a week; now it will be seven days a week,” she said. “All told, we added 96 hours. The first week (this week) we knew it would be slow. We’re trying to get the word out.”
Peters said moving back from pub manager to server hasn’t been an issue.
“I’m a hands-on manager, and I’d never ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself,” Peters said. “I’ve served, I’ve worked the bar, whatever is needed. I’m a worker.”
Peters said she has plans for some of the Ale House employees who did not come across the parking lot with her.
“Craig told us we’re all on salary, and given that, I’m going to start scheduling some of our employees to help out outside the Ale House,” she said. “We can replant the flower gardens, paint fresh lines in the parking lot, maybe sand down some old bar stools, make them new again.”
All in all, Dickens said, the business neighbors are working together to better serve customers and employees alike.
And for those working part time at the Narrows Plaza Bowl, there’s an unexpected perk.
“We get to bowl for 50 cents a line,” Peters said. “I may learn how to bowl.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638